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Strawberry Festival adds security measures for 2017

Sheriff’s Sgt. Tim Lovett helps Florida Strawberry Festival patrons who need directions to a favorite booth. Lovett recently took over as the head of security for the festival.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Tim Lovett helps Florida Strawberry Festival patrons who need directions to a favorite booth. Lovett recently took over as the head of security for the festival.
Published Mar. 1, 2017

On June 12, 2016, 49 people were killed in a shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando.

Just over one month later on July 14, a cargo truck was deliberately driven into the crowds celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France, killing 86 and wounding more than 50 others.

And on Jan. 6, 2017, a gunman opened fire at the Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport, killing five.

For Florida Strawberry Festival General Manager Paul Davis and Security Manager Tim Lovett, both former deputies with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, the safety of the hundreds of thousands of guests attending Plant City's 11-day festival every year is a top priority — one they'll maintain in a world where the unimaginable can become a reality in the blink of an eye.

"Everything changed after 9-11," Davis said. "But it just keeps changing. As time progresses, you have to stay ahead of the curve."

With added safety measures this year that include pre-registering vehicles on the grounds and promoting pedestrian safety, the festival's security leaders are ensuring that guests are well-protected.

More than 560,000 people attended the 2016 Florida Strawberry Festival. Before any of them entered the festival's gates, security officials searched their bags and checked them in using a security wand at the festival's entrance.

The added safety measure was new last year, after the festival brought on Lovett, a Plant City native, as security manager. He encouraged the use of wands and bag checks at the festival from his time overseeing courthouse security in the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World.

But Lovett didn't stop at installing the measure, he ensured officials executed the technique properly. Prior to the start of the festival, security officers had to take a safety class to learn proper "wanding" techniques with an estimated cost of $75,000.

"Tim was basically hired to head our security," Davis said. "We've updated it substantially. We have security around the perimeter, including mounted and bike officers. You can't be too secure these days. Our most important weapon is that our customers here are like family. They notice things and they are quick to tell us when they see something wrong. We had no complaints about searches last year because guests want to be safe, too."

In 2017, Lovett and Davis will continue to take measures to ensure that the festival is a fun, safe atmosphere for all who attend. Annually, the festival spends about $500,000 on security, and partners with both the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and the Plant City Police Department.

"The way things are today, we want people to feel safe coming here," Lovett said.

The latest security precaution was Lovett's idea. This year, all vehicles entering the grounds of the festival will be required to have a sticker on them with an identification number and pre-registered information about the driver.

"If it doesn't have one, it will be removed from the grounds," Lovett said.

To keep guests safe, vehicles won't be allowed inside the grounds during the festival's operating hours and will have restricted access during closed hours. Largely, the vehicles that come on the grounds after festival hours are for festival vendors who need to work on their booths and restock supplies.

Emergency vehicles will be the only ones allowed inside the grounds during festival hours.

Contact Emily Topper at etopper@plantcityobserver.com.